HC Deb 31 May 1951 vol 488 cc545-56

Motion made, and Question proposed "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Bowden.]

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, Northfield)

In many ways it is a matter for regret to me that I am raising once again the subject of our rubber exports to China. I think it is fair to say that, as a result of a great deal of pressure in this House, we have now stopped our rubber exports to China and, in view of the fact also that the policy of His Majesty's Government towards the question of Formosa has been changed, I should very much prefer not to feel compelled to raise this subject this evening.

I am not in any way wishing to be personal about the matter, but I must confess that a decisive factor has been the quite extraordinary arrogance and hypocrisy displayed by the President of the Board of Trade on the occasion of his last speech. I should like to read to the House the opinion which was expressed upon the subject of aid and comfort to the Chinese by the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he was Attorney-General. I am reading from a letter written to me by the Minister of Defence; it was published on 13th April in "The Times" and other newspapers, and I am, in fact, reading from the "Daily Worker." This was revealed in a letter from Mr. Shinwell to Mr. Raymond Blackburn. The letter states: 'You may remember that when I made my statement on operations in Korea on 21st March you raised the question of the publicity being given by the Daily Worker about British casualties and the statements which it attributed to British prisoners of war. I undertook to bring the matter to the notice of the Attorney-General'— that is, the right hon. and learned Gentleman, now President of the Board of Trade— 'I have since discussed the matter with the Attorney-General.'— so I am now reading the opinion the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself gave only about a month before he became President of the Board of Trade— 'He is well aware of the undesirable activities of the Daily Worker in this connexion, some of which have every appearance of coming within the definition of treasonable activities.' Here is the vital sentence. 'This does, of course, turn to some extent on the question whether or not we are at war with China. On this it seems likely that from a legal point of view the state of hostilities between China and ourselves is sufficient to bring an act of giving aid and comfort to the Chinese within the definition of treason. The difficulty about instituting'— there was a sense of humour somewhere here— 'a prosecution, however, is that no other charge than that of treason would be possible, and that the only penalty for treason is death.' If the "Daily Worker," by its articles, was giving aid and comfort to the Chinese to such an extent that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has told us in this letter they were committing treason, what was the position of the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself and of the Government, who gave 120,000 tons of rubber in the first nine months after the war started—on their own figures? I am going to enter into the figures a bit later; I am going to give the prices of the rubber. They have given, on any view, since the beginning of the war with China, certainly well over £100 million of warlike material to China. Do we understand that the articles of the "Daily Worker" bring them within the charge of treason, but that for the Government themselves to sanction £100 million of warlike materials going to China does not also bring the Government within the charge of treason?

Far be it from me to suggest—it would be the last thing in my mind to suggest—that the charge of impeachment should ever be brought against any of His Majesty's Ministers, but, if the charge were brought, there is one who would unfortunately have his own legal opinion raised against him, because he has said in this letter, which the Minister of Defence sent to me, that to give aid and comfort to the Chinese brings anyone within the charge of treason. There is the letter.

Let me turn for one moment to the officially published figures.

Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees) rose

Mr. Blackburn

I am not giving way. Nobody has ever given way to me; the right hon. and learned Gentleman will never give way to me.

Let me read the figures that he himself quoted. I am quoting from the Rubber Statistical Bulletin, Secretariat of the Rubber Study Group, March, 1951, page 37. I am going to ignore decimals; I am giving London, but the other figures are the same. The price of rubber in 1950 was as follows: January, 1s. 3d.; February, 1s. 4d.; March, 1s. 4d.; April, 1s. 7d.; May, 1s. 11d. We are now coming near to the date of the war. In June 2s. 0d., July 2s. 6d., August 3s. 5d., September 3s. 10d., October 4s. 3d., November 5s. 1d., December 4s. 4d., January 4s. 11d., February 5s. 9d., and March 5s. 5d.

Certainly those prices rocketed, but in no way comparable to the way our exports of rubber rocketed, according to the Government's figures. According to the President's own figures, in the first six months of 1950—and I have given these figures previously in the OFFICIAL REPORT—the total exports to China were only 4,000 tons. These figures were not contradicted, and in fact the President said that I had said nothing new at the time I gave them.

The figures as given for the next nine months were 120,000 tons at a price approximately three or four times the average price in the previous six months when 4,000 tons were sold. In other words, it is absolutely undeniable on the Government's own figures that profits in excess of the sum of £50 million were made directly by this country—and it must have been known by the Government—out of the war in China in supplying goods which are admitted to be strategic material for war. All my authorities for this are absolutely undeniable, as I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows.

Let me come from March to April. I gave these figures in a censure Motion I put down against the right hon. and learned Gentleman. In the month of April—and we were told that these supplies had been stopped on 7th or 9th April—according to the figures officially given by the Hong Kong Government, about 5,000 tons of rubber went direct to China and about 3,800 or 4,000 tons went to Hong Kong. In other words, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we stopped our exports from the 7th or 9th, in that very month we sent to China and Hong Kong a total vastly in excess of the total admitted by the Government in supplies of rubber to China for the whole of the first six months of 1950. That is admitted on the Government's own figures, and that is one of the reasons I am raising this matter tonight.

Actually I think it is excellent that the Government have now said they will stop the supply of rubber to China. I am glad they have done it, but I was astonished beyond measure to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman say we had given the lead to the world. As far as I am concerned, I am in no way attempting to bring our relations with the United States into this argument. The issue is not how the United States or how the Soviet Union has behaved, but how we have behaved, and how we ought to behave to our own people. In view of the use made by those who fought for the Labour Party in 1945 and before of the book "Guilty Men," and some of the things we said in those days about the Americans for supplying scrap to Japan, shortly before the war began, I think there ought to be some consistency, and one ought to recognise the position in which one is.

It is easy for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to produce a set of figures. The Government have contradicted themselves four or five times already, and it will mean nothing to him to contradict any figures given tonight. I am going to quote from the sworn testimony—I do not say it is necessarily correct—given yesterday by Admiral Sherman, the last of the Chiefs of Staff to be called before the Senate Committee investigating certain matters in America.

There is a great deal of difference between sworn testimony by a Chief of Staff and statements made at the Dispatch Box and capable of being denied, as has so frequently happened, in the next day or two. [An HON. MEMBER: "And your statements, too."] Certainly. But none of the figures I have given are mine. A statement by me is of no importance whatever unless it is supported by facts. I have been quoting from the Government's own figures. The hon. Gentleman may take this and read it after the debate, and I hope he will learn from the evidence that the Government have produced. Admiral Sherman said: Examples of trade with Communist China are reports in April that one Hong Kong firm was attempting to barter rubber in exchange for 150,000 tons of Manchurian soya beans. Two hundred and twenty-eight trucks were shipped from Hong Kong to China from January to April. During April a Hong Kong firm offered to supply the Chinese Communists with 100 surplus General Motors five-ton trucks and 10,000 sets of tyres. I want to come to the main point of difference between me and the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The Colonial Office have published figures of exports of rubber to China. I have no doubt that these figures are exclusive of indirect exports to China, and that the indirect exports have been on a much greater scale than the Government have ever been prepared to admit. Surely the Government, on their own figures, should be able to differentiate between exports to China and exports to Hong Kong. Exports to Hong Kong are a very different matter from exports to China.

The Government are surely not admitting already that Hong Kong is part of China; but many of the exports to Hong Kong, as the Government or their advisers well know, are bound to find their way to China. Apart from that—this is a point again sworn to by Admiral Sherman—an enormous trade has been done, from this country and from ports in the Commonwealth and Empire, not through Hong Kong but by the use of ships flying foreign flags which have gone through other ports.

I wish to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman an opportunity that I feel sure he would not give me. If may be asked, "Why raise this point at this stage?" The main reason, in my submission, that it ought to be raised at this stage is that the future peace of the world may well depend on the attitude we take towards the very great problems that now arise in China and Korea. It is a profound error, which may lead to war, for the Government to suppose that by any form of appeasement towards Communist China they can help to prevent war.

On the contrary, it will be shown, and has been shown already, that any action transgressing the bounds of justice and decency which is an attempt to avoid a war with China makes the Chinese Communist Government more aggressive and not less aggressive. I do not for one moment advance the view that war is imminent; I have never done so; but I think at this time it is vital that we should stick to genuine principles of international law and that we ourselves should be prepared to come out in favour of the proposal for a blockade—and I use the word advisedly—of all war materials going to China. I also say that we must make our own moral position absolutely clear.

Let us take the question of the young men—I see that 75 of them were under the age of 20—who have been conscripted and have died in Korea since the war started. On the figures which I have given and which cannot be answered—and I will take an Adjournment on this question again if I receive an answer which appears to me to be no answer—profits of between £40 million and £50 million must have been made out of this war. Out of these profits made out of the war the Government must have taken many, many millions of pounds in taxation—out of profits which would never have been derived but for the war. I ask them to disclose the amount of taxation on profits which have been made as a result of the war, and to allocate 25 per cent. for the benefit of dependents of those who have died and those who were wounded in the war.

I have no intention of going on longer. I feel very deeply upon this subject. It may be that I shall not have very much longer in this House, but in any event I shall be exceedingly glad I raised this subject in this House. I should be utterly ashamed to have been responsible for the way in which, knowing that the price of rubber has gone up month after month due to the war, we have sold vastly increased amounts of rubber month after month, and for coming forward in this House, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman did, and claiming that we gave a lead to the world. I sincerely hope that, as a result of the new departure in the Government's policy, which I hope will go forward, we shall be able to show, as we have shown before, that we stand for the cause of freedom and collective security in a way which no other country in the world has done.

11.20 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

I am not sure, and probably the hon. Member himself is not sure, what was the object behind the characteristically careless and ill-informed and mischievous speech which he has made. One thing I regret is the personal offensiveness, although, coming from the source it did. I can afford to be serenely indifferent about that—serenely indifferent and not surprised, because hon. Members on both side of the House know the hon. Member.

What is to be seriously regretted is that at this time any hon. Member of this House should have made a speech so calculated, deliberately calculated, to cause misunderstanding and anxiety between ourselves and the United States of America. There are plenty of enemies of this country who are only too anxious to exploit any pretext to cause these difficulties between two countries whose mutual friendship and co-operation and understanding are vital to the survival of the free world. I had not thought that any hon. Member of this House would sink so low as to use his position as a Member of Parliament, however temporary, to make such a mischievous speech as the hon. Member has made.

For in the United States of America, if this speech be reported at all, it will be reported as a speech made by a British Member of Parliament, and in America they will not be so well able to assess, as we are, the weight to be attached to the views and statements of the hon. Member. Nor do they know, as we know, that at the end of the life of this Parliament the hon. Member will be thrown back into the political obscurity from which the Labour Party very unwisely assisted him to rise. But it is, perhaps, at least significant—and this ought to be known in America—that out of the total Members of Parliament, in both Houses of our British Parliament, the number who thought it worth while to come and listen to the hon. Member make this speech was less than two per cent.

Mr. Blackburn

On a point of order. Is it in order for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to make use of the late hour of the night, on an Adjournment Motion, to make these totally unjustified remarks?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

Perfectly in order.

Sir H. Shawcross

I have not the slightest intention of going over again, to satisfy the vanity of the hon. Member, the full and clear, and I think satisfactory, debate on exports to China which we had on 10th May. Nor am I going to engage in statistical argument with the hon. Member. There has never been any secret about the nature or extent of our trade with China. It has been fully available in the Trade and Navigation Returns. Special returns were made of Hong Kong's trade from fortnight to fortnight, I think it was, to the United States Consul in Hong Kong so that the whole matter could be concerted.

The facts and figures were as I stated them on 7th May and 10th May. I have previously said that the total exports of rubber to China between July, 1950, and March, 1951, included all exports, whether direct or through Hong Kong. I said so on 7th May, I said so three times on 10th May, and I say so again now. The hon. Member, because of some conversation he alleged the other day that he had with the Colonial Office, has sought to suggest that the figures did not include the re-exports through Hong Kong.

Mr. Blackburn

I did not say that.

Sir H. Shawcross

I listened to the hon. Member's account of a telephone conversation with an officer of the Colonial Office. That account is gravely at variance with the detailed account which I have received from a very high and distinguished officer of the Colonial Office who spoke to the hon. Member on the telephone. Having heard both accounts, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that I accept unreservedly the account of that distinguished civil servant, and reject what the hon. Member has said.

Mr. Blackburn

On a point of order—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No question of order arises. The hon. Member must permit me to say that he has taken more than a fair proportion of the short time available, and he must allow the Minister to reply.

Sir H. Shawcross

I only add that in his telephone conversation with the high and distinguished civil servant concerned, the hon. Member said that he felt rather a cad in asking these questions, because he wanted the information to attack the Colonial Secretary. As to that remark by the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Blackburn

On a point of order. That is absolutely—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is going to lie, I have no intention of staying.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member must withdraw that remark. If not, then he must withdraw from the House.

Mr. BLACKBURN declined to comply with that direction; whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to Standing Order No. 21 (Disorderly Conduct), ordered the hon. Member to withdraw immediately from the House during the remainder of this day's Sitting; and he withdrew accordingly.

Sir H. Shawcross

As to that, I have no reason whatever to doubt the hon. Member's own description of himself. The second thing I have to say is this: whilst in my Department we are always anxious to give the fullest assistance and information to any Member of Parliament who comes to us, I have directed in my office that in future if the hon. Member who has just been ordered to withdraw from the House requires information, he must do it in writing and he will get a written reply.

Now, on 9th April it was decided to put into operation a quantitative control of 2,500 tons a month on rubber to China. Before that control came into operation, approximately 7,000 tons had already been shipped in the month of April. That accounts for the figure of about 9,000 tons as the total for the month of April. The hon. Member thought it right, completely recklessly, to accuse me of falsehood about the figures for April and about our imposition of a quantitative control over it. In order to substantiate that charge, he found it convenient to forget the early part of April, and the fact that in that time substantial shipments took place before the control came into operation which we had no power at all to stop.

I can only give the hon. Member the figures, I cannot give him the capacity to understand them. But I want just to add this. He suggested that we should have a blockade of China. The significant thing about trading with the Communist countries and exporting goods to them is this: do they increase the potential strength of those who receive them more than the imports we receive in return increase our potential strength? We are satisfied that the balance of advantage has been on our side, and it is completely fallacious to suppose that it would be wise strategically, or that America or anybody else wants us to cut off all trade with the Communist countries, China included.

After a great many visits to the United States of America and some knowledge of the American people, I am more than ever convinced of the importance of friendly understanding and co-operation with that country. We have not always been very successful. I am afraid, in explaining our position and our difficulties and our policies in the United States, particularly our difficulties, depending as we do on vital supplies from the Communist countries, which the United States cannot replace and which we cannot get elsewhere.

I hope that these difficulties we have had in explaining our position in the United States will not be further added to by the speech of the hon. Member, whose facts I assert with complete confidence, were inaccurate, whose conclusions were wholly misleading. I hope that our friends in America will not be misled by these reckless statements, and that they will understand that we have done and shall do nothing to strengthen the war potential of the Communist countries relatively to our own, or to that of America and the other countries with which we are associated.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Eleven o'Clock.